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ELLYSE PERRY: AN AMBASSADOR FOR WOMEN'S SPORT WORLDWIDE

Australia's darling is the perfect spokeswoman in the drive for equality across the globe

By SAM MORSHEAD

Cricketer. Footballer. Entrepreneur. Business owner. Children’s author. Role model. And now… international icon.

Ellyse Perry may only be 27 years old but she’s already the first lady of Australian sport. Next stop, world domination.

On Saturday, the Aussie all-rounder produced one of the best batting performances in the history of women’s cricket, single-handedly beating England into the ground at the North Sydney Oval on the way to 213 not out.

It was an innings that swayed between calm control and total command of the English attack - graceful, watchful, occasionally aggressive, always in charge and totally out of keeping to an otherwise mundane, meandering Test.

At times, it just seemed easy. Then again, plenty appears to come easily to Perry - as multi-talented a sportswoman as exists on our planet.

In reality, of course, there’s more to success than just being born with a natural aptitude, and into an environment that allows that aptitude to thrive, but such is the scope of Perry’s abilities it may be hard to give her the credit she deserves.

Ellyse Perry represents the advancement of women's sport

Who wasn’t jealous of the classmate that played in every first team from football to fencing, had perfect pitch, near-perfect skin and an equally encyclopaedic knowledge of Darwin and Dickens, after all?

We should set aside the green-tinted specs, however, and make sure Perry is celebrated as the poster girl for her sport. In time, she may well become the poster girl for sport in its entirety.

Women’s cricket is enjoying a tremendous growth spurt and ambassadors such as the New South Wales native are crucial in spreading the message further.

And there aren’t many sporting stories that shout ‘this girl can’ in quite the same way as Perry’s.

The daughter of a former maths teacher and a GP, she was blessed with sporting genes - dad Mark played high-level cricket and represented Australia at squash, mum Kathy played representative netball - and a competitive rivalry with her brother which spurred her on to improve.

She took up football with a local Sydney club, Beecroft Wombats (“because her brother did and her father was the coach and she loved it,” according to journalist Maggie Mackellar), and kept on pursuing cricket.

By the time Perry was 16 she was a dual international.

By the time she was 20 she had played for her country in both the cricket and football World Cups.

Heck, she even scored for the Matildas (the name given to Australia’s women’s team) in the quarter-final of the 2011 tournament, around the time most of her generation were sleeping off steaming hangovers.

Perry has become an inspiration to youngsters in Australia and further afield

Now, she owns two businesses and has been published four times by Random House - a series of children’s books focusing on the importance of sport in young people’s lives and how to deal with bullies, teachers and feelings of loneliness.

Oh, and she’s ranked second in the ICC world batting rankings and 13th in the bowling equivalent.

As modern society increasingly wakes up to the importance of self-determination and gender equality, Perry is leading by example.

“My biggest hope is that (women’s cricket) creates its own strong identity and exists in its own right,” she told Cricket Monthly in July. “Not as a comparison to the men’s game.”

In truth, there is no obvious male comparison to Perry. Not in cricket, anyway. Jonty Rhodes won international hockey caps for South Africa but never played at a major tournament, while the wildly exaggerated stories of AB de Villiers’ mastery of every sport from tiddliwinks to taekwondo have been debunked by the man himself.

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The only 21st-century tale that bears any real similarity to Perry’s is that of Namibian medium-pacer-slash-fly-half Rudie van Vuuren, who played at World Cups in two sports during the early 2000s.

But Van Vuuren himself admitted he was “not that talented at cricket” and, though she admitted in a 2015 interview with the Sydney Morning Herald that for all her sporting prowess she “still can’t dance”, Perry’s cricketing ability is most definitely not in doubt.

And neither are her footballing skills. A combination of unfavourable coaches, a hamstring injury and her love of cricket has meant Perry hasn't kicked a ball for her country since 2012 but it seems implausible to suggest that if she had chosen the pig’s bladder over the willow blade she wouldn't be a first-team regular with the Matildas today.

She is a freak of nature; an inspirational freak of nature. And children in Australia are buying into her success. There is a female sports star they want to imitate on the playground now and, for the status of women's cricket, that's a big deal.

The 27-year-old’s rise to prominence has not gone unrewarded financially, and she may perhaps count herself lucky to have lived and worked in an era which is beginning to redress the balance when it comes to pay equality in sport, but without players such as her the sport would find it harder to push towards parity and fairness.

At 27, she is in the prime of her career

Her marriage to Australia rugby union star Matt Toomua is another example to young people of how dreams can be pursued.

Toomua is playing for Leicester in the English Premiership and, though their whereabouts dovetailed in the summer when Australia visited England for the World Cup and Perry later played for Loughborough in the Women’s Super League, for much of the year the two are separated by half the globe.

But there is flexibility in their relationship; a very modern outlook on the world.

“We’ve got plenty of years to get sick of each other later on in life,” Toomua told The Guardian earlier this year.

“We’re in a special time now in terms of opportunity. If we didn’t take it, we’d be pretty disappointed later on.”

Her 213 against England did not put Perry on the map - she has been prominent in the landscapes of both Australian sport and women’s cricket for more than a decade, since she made her international debut before she had played for her state.

But it is innings such as the one she so gracefully, stubbornly, classily compiled in the town of her birth last weekend which will propel her through glass ceiling after glass ceiling.

Women’s cricket is marching onwards - an average TV audience of almost 240,000 watched each game of the female version of the Big Bash last season, more than 120,000 attended the matches in person and the summer’s World Cup final dragged in an audience 30 percent bigger than that for the men’s Champions Trophy equivalent.

As long as the likes of Perry are in charge, that advance will only continue.

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